Universities reopen to the sound of chattering teeth

January 23, 1998

CANADIAN university students are returning to lectures after weathering the worst ice storm to hit the country in 150 years.

Three weeks ago, five days of rain coupled with below-freezing temperatures, brought down millions of tree limbs and countless power lines, putting more than three million people in southern Quebec and eastern Ontario in the dark.

The natural disaster, which brought 11,400 troops into the area, caused at least 21 deaths and an estimated $1.5 billion (Pounds 640 million) in damage.

Half a million people's homes and businesses are still in the dark and not expected to have power restored until the beginning of February.

Quebec's agricultural sector, especially its maple syrup production, was hard-hit.

Universities in Montreal, Ottawa and Kingston were closed for over a week and some became an integral part of the biggest disaster relief in Canada's history, providing shelter for those who could not find family or friends to stay with during the crisis. Most classes resumed this week.

The Universite de Montreal, located on the north side of Montreal's Mount Royal, is overlooked by a scene of devastation, with many of the mountain's trees folded over steep ridges and others showing gaping white scars.

Back to university after an extended Christmas vacation, some students stood outside one building smoking cigarettes, sipping their morning coffees and sharing "war stories".

Meanwhile maintenance workers chopped ice that was almost a foot thick. Thousands of branches still littered the grounds.

Montreal's Concordia University has announced that its spring break will be cancelled. Other universities have said that they will be making up the lost days by modifying class schedules.

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